The spooks are spooked.

Not by anything that foreign enemies might do to America — but by what our CIA and its political overseers did to America.

By “America,” I mean the essence of our country: our ideals and the moral values we hold up as a beacon to the world. That beacon shines less brightly today because of one word: torture.

Even as President George W. Bush was insisting that “This government does not torture,” Bush himself was authorizing secret torture sites, the National Security Council was approving the CIA’s request to torture prisoners, and the Justice Department was crafting secret memos to rationalize that torture.

Torture Victim Protest

Shrieking Tree/Flickr

Now, the architects of those dark years are feeling haunted — not because of what they did and then lied about, but because they got caught.

The gruesome, nauseating details of their brutal torture of fellow human beings have just been documented in an in-depth investigative report by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

So spooked is the whole hierarchy by the shamefulness of this — and so intense is their culture of denial — that officials cannot bring themselves to say the word “torture.” John Brennan, the current CIA director, dodged the blunt truth of the word by saying, “I will leave to others how they might want to label those activities.”


Do they think they can paper over the depravity of torturing people by calling it an “activity”? That only heightens the shame of what the hierarchy did in America’s name. Brennan then tried to bury the horror by saying he hopes “we can put aside this debate and move forward.”

Toward what?

If today’s officials can’t call torture what it is — much less hold anyone accountable for these criminal and immoral acts — then future officials are free to do it again.

And you can bet they will.

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Jim Hightower

OtherWords columnist Jim Hightower is a radio commentator, writer, and public speaker. He’s also editor of the populist newsletter, The Hightower

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